Subaru builds an Outback that off-roaders will say “yes” to.
Subaru is nothing if not shrewd. When SUV sales took off in the mid 1990s and threatened to leave the company's automotive offerings behind, it added cladding to the Legacy wagon and created the Subaru Outback. In the 2000s, Subaru plugged the affordable performance gap with the Impreza WRX. Today, with scores of Crosstrek, Forester, and Outback buyers rolling out of Subaru dealers and immediately into their local 4 Wheel Parts stores for upgraded wheels, all-terrain tires, and suspension lifts, the automaker is cashing in with the new 2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness, the first of the new Wilderness sub-brand. Can Subaru beat the aftermarket at its own game? Yes, it can.
With the new 2022 Outback Wilderness, Subaru honed in on the most popular off-road mods its owners like to execute to offer them from dealerships along with a factory-backed warranty. Based on the Outback XT and sporting a 2.4-liter turbo flat-four engine with 260 horsepower and 277 lb-ft of torque, the new range-topping Outback Wilderness downsizes from 18- to 17-inch wheels, wraps them with Yokohama Geolandar all-terrain tires, and gives the already-lifted all-wheel-drive station wagon an additional 0.8-inch of ground clearance, to 9.5 inches.
Functionally, Subaru rounds out the Outback Wilderness package with a new skidplate, slightly revised tuning of the car's continuously variable transmission to improve low-speed handling off-road, some X-Mode revisions, and a beefier roof rack. Aside from increasing ground clearance to 9.5 inches, the revisions also improve the Outback's relatively weak off-road clearance angles; approach/breakover/departure angles all improve from 18.6/19.4/21.7 degrees for a stock Outback to 20.0/21.2/23.6 degrees for the Outback Wilderness.
Subaru also made a host of stylistic changes to the Outback Wilderness, which you can read about in our First Drive.
Outback Wilderness Vs. Outback XT
There's no such thing as a free lunch, and we expected the 2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness' off-road-focused changes to hurt its on-road performance. As the test numbers bear out, Subaru did an impressive job mitigating negative effects on the hot-selling SUV.
The Outback Wilderness accelerated from 0-60 mph in 6.1 seconds, and through the quarter mile in 14.7 seconds at 96.1 mph. That's only 0.2 second behind our long-term 2020 Outback Onyx XT (previously the most off-road-capable Outback) in the 0-60-mph test, and just 0.1 second behind (but 0.2 mph faster than) the Outback Onyx in the quarter-mile. We suspect the Outback Wilderness' revised CVT "gears" and 17-inch wheels help the off-roader make up some speed in the quarter.
Somewhat surprisingly, the Outback Wilderness' off-road tires seemed to help its braking and handling performance compared to our long-term Outback Onyx. The Outback Wilderness needed a longish 127 feet in our 60-0-mph panic stop test, besting the Onyx by two feet, and it lapped our figure-eight course in 27.2 seconds while averaging 0.63 g. The Outback Onyx XT? Well, it needed 27.5 seconds to lap the figure eight, averaging 0.62 g during its best run.
Less surprising are the Outback Wilderness' EPA fuel-economy ratings. It nets 22/26/24 mpg city/highway/combined, well below the Outback XT's 23/30/26 mpg.
Out on the road on the way to MT's go-to off-road testing grounds, the Outback Wilderness doesn't feel all that different from a standard Outback. Its ride quality remains superb, with the suspension quickly and capably dispatching potholes and expansion joints.
Thanks to the turbocharged flat-four, the 2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness is among the rare modern-day Subarus that don't feel underpowered. The CVT is quick to virtually "kick down" and puts the engine in the meat of its powerband, and it's smart enough to hold an appropriate amount of revs when driving aggressively. Although its power delivery is slightly smoother than lesser turbocharged Outbacks, the Wilderness' turbo-four and CVT can still feel surge-y in city traffic.
Unsurprisingly, the most noticeable changes to the way the Outback Wilderness goes down the road are due to the all-terrain tires. For starters, there's more road noise. While the Subaru's Yokohamas don't drone in a way that a more aggressive off-road tire like a BFGoodrich K02 does on an aftermarket-modified Subaru, the Outback Wilderness' cabin is certainly a few decibels louder than other versions. Steering feel suffers slightly, too. The Outback Wilderness loses a bit of sharpness from the usual carlike responses to steering inputs, and its on-center feel is slightly more vague.
How Is The Outback Wilderness Off-Road?
Thankfully, the Outback Wilderness makes up for the noise and steering trade-off when the pavement ends. As is the case when trying to improve a sports car's handling, tires are the most underrated and overlooked modification you can make to improve your SUV's off-road capability. The added traction and sidewall protection of the Outback Wilderness' Yokohamas, combined with the Subaru's standard torque-vectoring all-wheel-drive system, help keep the wagon moving through soft sand, gravel, and mud.
The biggest advantages of the 2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness' new suspension are the improved approach and breakover angles. Off-roading a normal Outback is an exercise in watching your nose and making sure you don't dachshund your belly on moguls. You still need to exercise some caution in the Outback Wilderness, but its lifted setup helps to mitigate some of the concern, making you far more likely to arrive home from the trail without damage.
Like the standard Outback (or any crossover, really), the Wilderness' suspension neither has a lot of articulation nor does it handle fast whoops well. It's quite easy to put a tire high up in the air when navigating tight, technical terrain, though the Subaru's electronics are quick to grab the brake of the airborne tire to ensure the Outback keeps moving. Similarly, the Outback Wilderness' suspension runs out of travel pretty quickly over those aforementioned fast whoops. It's never punishing on rebound, but you get the hint to slow down.
How Much Is It, And Should I Buy One?
Prices for the 2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness start at $38,120, some $500 less than the more expensive non-turbo Outback Touring and $1,850 more than the Outback Onyx XT, the "base" model of the turbo lineup. When taking into account the fact you're likely to spend more than $2,000 on wheels and off-road tires alone via the aftermarket, the Outback Wilderness begins to look like a great deal for enthusiastic off-roaders. Throw in the suspension lift, added ground clearance, and the other Wilderness goodies, and it's a downright steal.
The 2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness may never tackle the Rubicon or the Mojave Road, but thanks to Subaru's changes, it will comfortably and capably tackle muddy two-tracks and desert trails. Locking differentials and true four-wheel-drive systems are fun, but we suspect the new Outback Wilderness delivers all the capability most buyers will ever need.